Starting at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night the 2017 season enters the business end, with the Sharks to tackle the Broncos in a match crucial to the premiership aspirations of both teams.
With the Sharks and Broncos tied on 30 points and equal in third place with four games remaining, it’s a game set to send one team on a course for the top four, the other into a desperate fight to remain relevant ahead of the upcoming finals series.
While disappointed in the loss to the Raiders last week and somewhat frustrated at the inconsistency shown by his team throughout much of the season, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan was firmly focused on the Broncos and the three games to follow.
“In the end, it’s the next month, the next two months of football, it’s what happens next that will determine if it’s a successful season or not,” Flanagan said. “That’s what we’re focusing on, winning the next 3-4 games of football, being in the semi-finals series, making the top four and that’s how we will be judged.”
The first test along the way as the quest to defend their NRL title intensifies, starts in Brisbane in a huge Friday night encounter. It’s a challenge Flanagan and his team are eagerly anticipating.
“It’s a good opportunity, against a quality team, up there in front of 30-40,000 fans, could even be more. I’m really looking forward to it, all our players are excited about it and expect them to play well,” he said.
A match pivotal in terms of the Sharks potential position in the top eight, the game is also a special occasion for the fact that club Captain Paul Gallen takes to the field for the 300th time in his NRL career.
Public enemy number one during his time in the NSW Origin squad, Gallen is set for an ‘enthusiastic’ welcome from the Suncorp Stadium crowd.
As explained by his coach, Gallen is unlikely to be phased by the reception he receives, with the inspirational skipper having just one goal in mind.
“The celebration is the game for Gal. He wants to concentrate on the game. We had a dinner during the week but there hasn’t been too much fanfare. Gal said to the boys all I want from you is to win the game,” Flanagan said.
If they hope to get that victory over a Brisbane side flying high and coming off a lopsided 54-0 victory over the Titans last week, the Sharks will need to show plenty of improvement on their last-up performance.
The Sharks were disappointing against the Raiders in going down by 30-12 and while Jack Bird is missing from the team to face Brisbane, James Maloney returns at five eighth after sitting out two weeks with a broken hand.
Maloney has trained strongly this week and the coach has no doubt his inclusion will benefit his side.
“He gives us a little bit of cohesion. We’re glad to have him back and he wasn’t out that long so he shouldn’t be too rusty,” Flanagan said.
The versatile and capable Kurt Capewell slips into Bird’s centre position, while last week’s number six Fa’amanu Brown moves to hooker, James Segeyaro back to the bench.
In relation to the bench, Flanagan has trimmed his squad from 21 down to 19, with Sam Tagataese and youngster Jesse Ramien added to the selected 17. Flanagan will make a final decision as to his line up one hour before the 7.50pm kick-off tomorrow.
The Sharks team list and all the relevant stats from Sharks v Broncos games are below.
NRL TEAM LIST – Round 23
Sharks v Broncos
Friday, August 11
Kick-off – 7.50pm
1 - Valentine Holmes
2 - Sosaia Feki
3 - Kurt Capewell
4 - Ricky Leutele
5 - Gerard Beale
6 – James Maloney
7 - Chad Townsend
8 - Andrew Fifita
9 - Fa’amanu Brown
10 - Matt Prior
11 - Luke Lewis
12 - Wade Graham
13 - Paul Gallen
14 - Jayson Bukuya
15 - Chris Heighington
16 - Jeremy Latimore
17 - James Segeyaro
18 - Sam Tagataese
21 – Jesse Ramien
Tale of the Tape
Head to Head
Brisbane 32 wins
At Suncorp Stadium
Brisbane 11 wins
Last eight matches
Sharks 4 wins
Sharks 46-Brisbane 12, Toyota Stadium, 2009
Brisbane 40-Sharks 2, Lang Park, 1991